You might pick up the whirring of the four rotors, if you’re listening, as they buzz overhead but then maybe not. Drones. These miniature choppers, spinning and wheeling overhead at speeds up to 200kmh, are the new hawks of the sky.
Fast, nimble, sleek and high-tech, their vision is acute, their maneuverability is access-all-areas — barring lines, trees and territorial birds — and their potential is still being plumbed. Photographers, helicopters, postal services, even pizza deliveries are re-assessing their business plans with them in mind.
Poised above the crashing cascade of Erskine Fall, outside Lorne, a Phantom quadcopter drone dodges obstacles, nuts out the three dimensional environment it’s flying in, streams live video, snaps photos and returns to your hand like an obedient trained raptor.
Or a trained chainsaw if you don’t keep careful stock of exactly where those rotors are.
The vision the drone provides is acute, high-resolution, and provided you don’t insist on shooting into the sun it’s as clear as you like. But it’s really the up-close-and-personal, the unusual angles and the bird’s-eye view at speed, that catch the imagination.
Erskine Falls from straight up looks totally different to what the earth-bound spectator sees. A white swoosh in a sea of grey-green sticks and ferns, it seems out of place. Trees bend to the focal length of the lens, assuming a slightly flattened fish-eye perspective.
We put the Phantom through its paces along the Great Ocean Road, seeking out vantage points normally the precinct of birds — cliffs, rivers, bush and beaches. It purred through the job, contending with strong winds effortlessly and, fortunately, avoiding any claims by neighbourhood birds who might see mechanical newcomers as a threat.
At Cumberland River’s rocky redoubt, it captured a picturesque view previously only available to the intrepid or foolhardy climbers or avian adventurers, courtesy of near-impenetrable scrub top and bottom of a vertical stretch of sedimentary stone.
Below the nearby Teddy’s Lookout, on the outskirts of Lorne, traffic winds around the debouchement of the St George River where the drone’s seagull vantage presented a view of wattle and water, bush and beach.
The power of nature was evident as our Phantom closed in on the eroding cliffs at Anglesea, slowly but surely ceding way to waves, wind and rain. Their fate is suggested only too clearly by the solitary green-capped ‘apostle’ at the Aireys Inlet lighthouse, a few kilometres further along the coast.
At Jan Juc’s Bird Rock, the drone swept into its own, buzzing the swell before it crashed salt and spume into the ragged, sandy cliffs. A vantage point just metres above the water provided a perspective familiar to the likes of para-gliders and few others.
Our drone captured Barwon River floodwaters as they roiled and heaved over Buckley Falls at Queens Park, whipping past the old paper mill precinct and toward the confluence with the Moorabool. It looked across the greenery of the city’s Johnstone Park to the new pink-tiled landmark library. It peeped around the lights at Kardinia Park to see inside the stadium below.
All of this at the touch of a finger with technology yet to be put to full potential. One thing seemed sure, though. The world’s fascination with social media and selfies might find small, personalised drones the world’s next big thing.
Dronies — selfie videos of everything you do — could well take over from where the sporting mad GoPro helmets leave off. Just program it, throw it the air behind you and jump, dive, ride, run, ski, surf, drive, fly, swim, climb, parachute, party …
And chances are when you hear that telltale whirring in future, you might start paying closer attention.